Could Fidgeting Actually Be Good for You?

Benefits of fidgeting

You may remember being scolded for fidgeting as a kid, maybe even at school by a teacher. But the tables can be turned too. One study, which sought to examine how accurately people can judge others by analyzing their non-verbal behavior, found that teachers who fidgeted (with their hands or with an item like a pen) were not only rated lower by their students, but even by total strangers who formed a negative impression of the teacher within seconds of watching a silent video clip of them teach.1

Outside the classroom, the average person is likely to perceive fidgeting as a sign that someone is being deceptive. Even trained police officers will come to the same conclusion if a person fidgets or looks away, even though research indicates that these are not reliable cues.2


So, why do people fidget? Well, there is no easy answer for that. But it is possible that many of the foot tappers and finger drummers of the world may just be trying to work off some excess energy.3

The Benefits Of Fidgeting

Does fidgeting really deserve such a bad rap? Maybe not. In fact, all that twitching and squirming may actually be good for us – for several different reasons.


1. A Calorie Burner

Ever wonder how some people can manage to remain so slim without ever stepping into the gym? Well, maybe they are just fidgety. One study found that, when volunteers consumed an extra 1,000 calories per day, some of them increased the energy they expended automatically through non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which includes movements like fidgeting, holding a particular posture, and other regular activities like standing and sitting (basically, anything excluding eating, sleeping, and exercise). There was a ten-fold variation in fat gain, with the increase in NEAT causing one group to store less fat. Energy expenditure also increased by two-thirds when NEAT increased.4

NEAT can play an important role in maintaining body weight, curbing obesity, and losing weight.5In fact, an average obese person could expend an extra 200 calories per day just by fidgeting for a total of approximately 2.5 hours.6


2. Help Your Heart

Sitting still for long periods of time can decrease the blood flow to the legs and create blood clots, which may then travel to your lungs and block an artery, eventually damaging your heart – a condition known as pulmonary embolism.7

Research now indicates that fidgeting may actually have a protective effect. While keeping your leg stationary decreases blood flow, a fidgeting leg will drastically increase it, helping your blood vessels function better and thus improving your vascular health.8So, next time you are binge-watching your favorite show or stuck on a long flight, do not forget to shake those legs every now and then.


3. Live Longer

A sedentary lifestyle that involves sitting down for long periods of time leads to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.9 In fact, researchers have estimated that life expectancy in the US can be increased by about 2 years just by lowering the amount of time spent sitting to less than 3 hours per day.10

However, new research shows that fidgeting can actually protect against these risks, irrespective of the level of physical activity. A study that followed 12,778 women over 12 years found that among test subjects who did not fidget much, mortality risk was 30% higher for those who spent 7 or more hours a day sitting. But women who fidgeted a lot or even moderately had a decreased risk even when they spent more than 5 hours a day sitting.11


4. Improve Attention In Children With ADHD

Hyperactivity is common in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One study found that children with ADHD actually performed better when they were physically moving or simply just fidgeting. Researchers believe that this muscular movement can promote alertness.12